On Holiday
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Keeping Hens Happy on Holidays

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Heading off on holidays? Don't let your feathered friends become an afterthought! With a little planning and preparation, you can ensure that you return to a flock of happy and healthy hens delighted to welcome you back home. 

Over the holiday period, I often receive phone calls from sad chicken owners who have lost one or more flock members while away. Often, it is due to the carer that they have organised for their flock, not fully understanding or appreciating the importance of giving the right chicken food or providing sufficient care and attention.

Sometimes this is because the carer hasn’t been adequately informed by the owner about the specifics of what is needed to keep the flock happy, healthy and safe. Other times, it can be a carer who “thinks” they know about chickens and when left to their own devices, do the wrong things with tragic consequences.

Critical Concerns Areas

  1. Chicken food - chicken food running-out or being replaced with low-quality chicken food that hens refuse to eat. I have heard of hens just being fed bread, household scraps or just pasture which are all completely inadequate.
    1. Water - water running out and not being replenished is another big risk area.
    2. Heat - Summer heat causes increased evaporation from drinkers and increased water consumption by the flock. Warm water is also off-putting for chickens to drink. Eggs can also deteriorate quickly in Summer heat and bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter can grow. If those eggs end up being eaten, you or the carer can be in for some unpleasant health problems.
    3. Humidity - humidity can kill chickens quickly through not being able to lose their body heat. Chickens don’t sweat like us humans so rely on airflow over their wattles, comb and wings to lose heat. When humidity increases and airflow decreases, chickens struggle to lose heat leading to potentially fatal heat stress.
    4. Security - lack of familiarity with the lock-up and free-ranging procedure can lead to increased risks of predation. Many chickens are lost while owners are on holiday due to the coop door being left open day and night. A common reason given is “I’ve never seen a fox around here before so didn’t think it would have been a problem”.

    It’s important that you are aware of these critical areas and make certain that you have solutions for each. After hearing the stories and experiences of many backyard chicken owners over the past years, we’ve come up with a checklist to provide guidance.

    The one-page Chicken Carer Checklist that you can download free, will remind both you and your carer of what needs to be done. Then, you’ll both be clear on expectations and have everything covered from running out of chicken food to eating bacteria-free eggs. You’ll then be able to confidently head off on holidays knowing that you will return to happy, “living” chickens.

    First things first…

    Finding a chicken carer:

    • Ask family or friends for any chicken and egg lovers who aren’t heading away on holiday for the period that you are. A good start is fellow backyard chicken owners who already have experience and are happy to receive extra eggs. Responsible children in your street can also be a good option.
    • Spread the word! Post on social media groups, ask at your church, community group or the local gardening club.
    • Make it easy! Use the Chicken Carer Checklist and add further instructions, tasks and responsibilities. Be sure to complete an induction for your carer, label everything and agree on visit frequency.

      Solutions to Critical Concerns

      1. Chicken Food

      • Double down on chicken food and be very clear and explicit about what chicken food is to be given to your flock
      • Make a note of how many kilograms of feed that you have available for the girls before departure
      • Run through our Chicken Feed Calculator to get a clear picture of how much feed your flock should consume for the numbers of days that you are away
      • Upon your return, get a good idea of how much chicken food is left and see if the flock has eaten close to what the Chicken Feed Calculator determined they should have eaten. If the numbers don’t add-up, ask questions.
      • Remember to fill feeders before departure and store remaining food in airtight containers in a cool, dry location.

        2. Water

        •  Hydration is key so ensure your girls have access to at least two sources of fresh, clean and cool water for the duration of your holiday
        • Make sure that drinkers can’t be knocked into by hens, spilling the water or worse still, emptying the entire contents of the drinker
        • Do not use bowls, buckets or dishes designed for cats and dogs as these require frequent re-filling and are open to contamination and evaporation
        • Use larger capacity drinkers where possible as small drinkers can easily run dry when the inevitable delay happens when your carer has something come up

          3. Beating the Heat

          • Keep water cool by having your carer add blocks of ice to drinkers on the hotter days. Note exactly how and where to access ice if needed on the Chicken Carer Checklist
          • Provide frozen treats such as watermelon or veg that they like and place on a scrap tray in a shady area
          • Provide ample shade and check that your chicken coop has good ventilation, particularly at the apex of the coop to allow hot air to rise up and out


          4. Beating Humidity

          • Clear away as many obstructions to breeze and airflow as possible around your coop
          • Make it clear that the carer is not to use the hose to wet any area under, in or immediately around the coop. This can act to increase humidity levels to fatal levels for hens. This is particularly dangerous at night when the flock will often be huddled together in the confines of their coop, greatly reducing their ability to lose body heat
          • Create a dust bath in a well shaded location but with as little hindrance to any potential breeze or airflow as possible
          • Add insulation under the roof of your coop and run if at all possible

            5. Predator-Proof Paradise

            • Foxes see opportunity in change and are highly observant so any change in activity levels, faces or coop doors can trigger interest. Check carefully for weak spots in your coop's mesh and particularly where it attaches to the coop structure.
            • If you have a large, airy and secure coop, it can make sense to keep the hens inside while away on holiday. Provide some extra forms of entertainment for them by way of toddler climbing toys, a bale of straw or hanging some DVDs.
            • For extra peace of mind, install an automatic coop door and check that the batteries have sufficient charge in them

            A Spring Clean:

            To make life more pleasant for your flock and your chicken carer, it is a great time to give your coop a good clean before heading away. Use a scraper to clean all hard deposits off hard surfaces and replace all bedding and nesting - ideally wood shavings for all dry areas and hemp for nest boxes. Don’t forget to clean drinkers naturally with a 1 litre mixture of water, rock salt and white vinegar in roughly equal parts. Adding Bugs Away into fresh bedding and nesting is a great way to both repel pest insects and add some fragrance to the coop.

            A Little Planning Goes a Long Way!

            With these tips and a reliable chicken sitter, you can relax and enjoy your holiday knowing your feathered friends are happy and healthy back home. Remember, a little planning goes a long way to ensuring your peace of mind. If you haven’t already, make sure to download the free, Chicken Carer Checklist.

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